The history of epidemic typhus

Didier Raoult, Theodore Woodward, J. Stephen Dumler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Typhus rarely rises into the consciousness of the western world. However, history has taught valuable lessons about the re-emergence of infectious diseases, and these lessons should not be wasted by ignoring the historical legacy of typhus. Over time, louse-borne typhus has killed more people than all conflicts combined and has inexorably changed human history, from the Peloponnesian war to Napoleon's Empire to twentieth-century Burundi. Because of its close alliance with war, hunger, malnutrition, crowding, poor hygiene, and mass human migrations that accompany social change, it would be prudent to remain wary of this longtime nemesis, because human tragedies continue to accrue even in our modern world. Typhus a is rapid and devastating disease. It is transmitted by vectors that can trigger explosive epidemics and then remain dormant, or it can be delivered as a deadly mass inoculum in dried aerosols. The specter of R prowazekii as an instrument of bioterror raises the need for awareness to a higher plane, lest the organism continue to impact human history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-140
Number of pages14
JournalInfectious disease clinics of North America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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